State’s industry partnerships help shape the university’s degree offerings to align closely with workforce needs, which means students are going into in-demand fields and are prepared to hit the ground running after graduation.
Cameron Chiles has wanted to be an airline pilot ever since elementary school, when he took his first flight during a family vacation.
“We traveled through Chicago O’Hare, and I saw all the operations and the controlled chaos — I just loved everything about it,” said Chiles, ’16, who grew up in Knox, Ind.
Chiles, 23, finally made that dream a reality when he joined Republic Airline as a full-time pilot this year. He started communicating with the company as a freshman at Indiana State and stayed in touch as he finished his bachelor’s degree and accumulated the required number of flight hours to become a pilot.
Indiana State’s relationship with Republic Airline is just one of the many valuable industry partnerships the university has formed over the years.
These partnerships help shape Indiana State’s curriculum and degree offerings to align closely with industry needs, which means students are prepared to hit the ground running professionally after graduation.
They also create opportunities for students to network with potential employers and hear advice from successful professionals in their chosen field.
“Industry partnerships are important for Indiana State because we need to be certain that our curriculum and all of our academic programs are structured in the right way,” said Mike Licari, vice president of academic affairs and provost. “We need a lot of information from employers about the expectations they have, where their various fields are going and what the next big thing is.”
Industry partners are also helping the university meet one of the goals of its newest strategic plan: to enhance and improve career readiness among Sycamores. Employers are continually providing feedback on the “soft skills” they want, such as critical thinking and communication.
“That goal is the result of a set of long conversations with employers about what our students need to be able to do when they graduate, beyond the skills related to their particular major — what other job skills do they need to have?” Licari said.
Additionally, the partnerships can help employers recruit top-quality employees and interns. They also give Sycamores and parents more peace of mind, as students have dozens of opportunities to find high-paying jobs and competitive internships.
The university’s Career Center has been particularly focused on industry partnerships over the past four years. In 2013, the university was one of 39 colleges and universities to receive a grant from the Lilly Endowment to improve employment opportunities for graduates.
The grant has allowed the center to focus on three growing industries in Terre Haute and across the state — health care, IT manufacturing and logistics and transportation — and hire three new employer relations coordinators to regularly check in with industry partners.
“We have to have those relationships to know what we’re preparing our students for,” said Tradara McLaurine, interim executive director of the Career Center. “It keeps us in-the-know. We can definitely give students the academic components and make sure they have the skill sets to actually do the job and do the work. But if we can’t get them in the door, we’re not really adding much value for our students.”
In addition to partnering with Republic Airline, the university’s aviation technology department has formal industry agreements with Trans States Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines. The department also recently launched a mentorship program with the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilot union in the world.
Because of these partnerships, flight students can participate in professional development opportunities and interview for full-time positions with the airlines while they’re still in school, said Katelyn Griffin, director of safety for Indiana State’s Flight Academy.
The airlines also benefit from the relationship as they grapple with a massive pilot shortage brought on by several converging factors. Thousands of Baby Boomers are now turning 65, the mandatory retirement age for pilots. In addition, new federal regulations have increased the number of flight hours pilots need to fly for the airlines.
“As an industry leading regional airline we thought, ‘How can we serve as a resource to our collegiate partners?’” said Sarah Fedder, ’15, who works as a college relations consultant for Republic Airline. “It really came down to, how can we start educating students to become interested and excited about aviation? We wanted to be the leaders in this initiative and support colleges and universities through training and development so their students are ready to come on board upon graduation.”
Technology and crime
Aviation isn’t the only academic department that benefits from having close ties to industry. In the ever-changing field of criminal justice, the university must stay connected with law enforcement agencies so that its degree programs and courses remain relevant.
“We rigorously and relentlessly pursue our job market in that we regularly invite people from industry — many of them our own alumni — to campus to discuss current issues, what new problems they’re encountering in their fields, what problems they’re having with new graduates that are entering the job market,” said DeVere Woods, chair of Indiana State’s department of criminology and criminal justice. “We’re constantly incorporating that back into our curriculum and our approach.”
Based on feedback from industry partners, the department has added two new degree programs that reflect the growing role technology now plays in criminal justice and law enforcement: a degree in intelligence analysis and a degree in cybercriminology and security studies.
“These programs really emanated from outside the university, from the market telling us what it needed,” Woods said.
In addition, the department incorporates industry feedback into its curriculum in more nuanced ways, such as by teaching students the history and the philosophy of criminal justice in hopes that they will be able to think critically when they enter the professional realm.
Employers regularly tell the department that they want police officers, deputies, analysts and technicians who can solve novel or unfamiliar problems by considering all the relevant historical, ethical and legal factors at play.
The department has also placed a renewed emphasis on writing skills so students will achieve long-term career success after they leave the university.
“We want our graduates to not only go out and get that first job, but we want them to get that first promotion,” Woods said. “We want them to be successful in their organization long-term.”
While lab work and lectures are important, Sycamores also benefit from hands-on experience in the field. Without help from local employers, that simply wouldn’t be possible.
Many health care professions require a certain number of hours of clinical experience for certification or licensure, which makes industry partnerships critical to the success of the College of Health and Human Services.
“If you are a student in the College of Health and Human Services, then you must have clinical experiences that provide you with opportunities to practice what you’re learning in the classroom, laboratory and simulation environment,” said Caroline Mallory, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “That could not happen if we didn’t have the cooperation and active engagement of employers.”
Mallory pointed out that the relationships also connect employers directly with highly qualified Indiana State graduates at a time when there are thousands of health care-related job openings across the state.
In response to industry needs in Indiana and nationwide, the college recently added several new degree programs, including a doctorate in athletic training, a master’s degree in occupational therapy, a doctorate of physical therapy and physician assistant studies program.
“We have to listen very closely to employers because they really are on the leading edge of what the expectations are in the professional world,” Mallory said.